A Regional Comparison of the Witch-hunt in the Orkney and Shetland Islands of Scotland in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries

Clark, Brenna
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University of Guelph

This thesis uses sixteenth- and seventeenth-century witchcraft trial records from the Orkney and Shetland islands to better understand the pattern of the Scottish witch-hunt at both a regional and national level. It analyzes the specific local and central religiopolitical imperatives that brought the Scottish witch-hunt to this culturally distinct insular region during an age of religious reformation. Examinations of Privy Council records and witchcraft trial records from the first witch-hunt in the Northern Isles reveal a clash between the islands’ customary quasi-independence and a centralizing, bureaucratic monarchy under King James VI. Details from cases in this specific region of Scotland also challenge received ideas about what elements officials focused on to secure convictions, notably the role of the Devil. Other characteristics of insular cases demonstrate consistency with Lowland cases, suggesting a common concern across Scotland to enforce correct and consistent forms of reformed worship and behaviour.

Witchcraft, Scottish witch-hunt, Early modern, Orkney, Shetland, Northern Isles, Scotland, Comparative, Regional